There are no knock-knock jokes in China. I thought that the Interrupting Cow and “Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?” would be fun for my wee ones, who are getting a little frustrated with the sometimes-silent K. First, I checked to make sure that Chinese cows actually say Moo, after learning that dogs here say “Cah Cah!” (say it with a hard C), I’ve been worried about cross-species translation. I also had an ulterior purpose in my lesson plan, I hoped that endless at-home repetition of “Banana who?” would convince certain parents that their children are actually learning English.
My Chinese students do not understand the premise of a knock-knock. They don’t knock. There is nothing that one might be doing in an apartment, office or even a dressing room, which would require a warning knock. I’m Italian and Jewish, and my Jewish side means that there is nothing in my life which isn’t your business, while my Italian side means nothing in your life isn’t my business. Even so, the total lack of privacy is disconcerting. I was not prepared for a constant public commentary on my clothes, weight, marraige prospects, and so forth. I keep reminding myself that everyone else’s clothes, food and relationship choices aren’t gossip, but repesctable dinner-table discussion.
And if someone, a foreigner perhaps, were to knock on a Chinese door, the person inside would not answer “Who’s there?” or “Foreign teacher who?” but would shout “Come in! Come in! Chi fan le ma? Have you eaten? Come in and eat!”